Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
Having grown up riding dirt bikes and quads out in the dunes of Glamis, California, Mike Linares has always had an affinity for all things off-road. But while his interests initially gravitated toward single-seaters, a chance opportunity to put a capable truck in his stable was too good to pass up, and it proved to be a harbinger of things to come.
“It was sort of a fluke,” he says. “Back in 2011, a friend of mine offered to sell me his long-travel Toyota Tacoma, and I kind of fell in love with the ‘cage.’ It wasn’t a crazy build – it was just a really fun truck, and my wife and I drove the wheels off of that thing.”
On the hunt for the next project a few years later, Linares spotted a Ford F100 build on Instagram that resonated with him. “I’ve always loved the dentsides – that’s my favorite generation of Ford pickups,” he explains. “I’d been trying to find a ’78 F-100, and in the meantime a friend of mine down in Ocotillo Wells had started building a ‘77 and documenting the project. It seemed like nobody else had really built up an F100 like that, and that really sparked my interest. There’s a lot of Silverados and Rangers out there, but you don’t really see many of these F-100s running around. It was just a really unique build. After he finished it he drove it for a little bit, and then I made him an offer, and he ended up selling it to me.”
Originally outfitted with a carbureted 427ci Ford small-block from Moruzzi Race Motors along with a laundry list of chassis upgrades, the F-100 was a capable and rowdy machine by Linares’s account, and it stayed largely in that configuration for the next few years. But after 10,000 miles of off and on-road driving, he noted that there were still some aspects of the truck that could benefit from additional refinement. “It just needed a little tweaking – I wanted to take the setup to the next level,” he notes. “So that’s when I contacted the guys at RJ Fab.”
Originally specializing in drag race builds when they opened their doors back in 1992, RJ Fab brought off-road machines into the fold as interest in these custom builds began to really ramp up in the early 2000s. “Mike’s truck was built pretty well, but somewhere along the way, some parts entered the mix that didn’t really work for the setup,” says Rob Lindsay, the owner and operator of RJ Fab. “So there were issues like replacement shocks that were too long for the suspension, which basically reduced up-travel, and some parts were crashing into other parts when it bumped out all the way with some steering angle. It was just a lot of little things that were holding the truck back a bit. When Mike initially brought the truck in, the plan was basically to just refine it – go through everything and figure out what could be dialed in a bit more.”
The shop went through the truck, revising the steering and suspension setups to put everything in harmony while also rebuilding the C6 three-speed automatic gearbox and swapping torque converters. “But as we were finishing everything up, I happened to give Mike a ride in my luxury prerunner build,” Lindsay recalls. “As soon as we got back to the shop, he said, ‘I don’t even want to pick up my truck yet – make the inside of my truck like the inside of your truck.” RJ Fab spent the next two months getting the F-100’s interior up to snuff, replacing the tired air conditioning system with a modernized unit, upgrading the switchgear and gauge cluster, installing heated seats and carpet, and reupholstering the cabin to make the truck more hospitable. “It was really about making it easier to drive and a bit more up to date,” he adds.
By the fall of 2019 the F100 was back in action and running better than ever, but disaster struck just five weeks after Linares took delivery. “I was out in Barstow filming some stuff with the guys from Terra Crew, and the truck had been performing flawlessly throughout that weekend,” he tells us. “But on the last day, things went a little goofy on a section of whoops and I rolled the truck. Everybody was fine, but it was definitely a sad situation – the truck was in pretty rough shape, and that put a lot of plans on hold.”
The F-100 went back to RJ Fab to assess the full extent of the carnage, which revealed some frame damage at the front and rear under the bent-up bodywork. But rather than abandoning the project, Linares used the incident as an opportunity to really recreate the F-100 in his own vision. “That’s when we decided to cut the front section off and part of the back to tie everything together with a better cage and put a trunk in.”
After straightening and boxing in the frame, RJ Fab set to work revamping the front end, reinforcing the lower shock mounts and installing a steering system from Power Steering Solution that would play nice with twin I-beam suspension, which now provides 21 inches of travel. Out back, a Camburg trophy truck-style rear end works in conjunction with 60” lower links and RJ Fab’s own upper links. The rear section of the chassis was also revised to raise the shock mounts in order to accommodate longer shocks, contributing to the 30 inches of rear suspension travel that the truck now boasts.
They also took the opportunity to give the F-100 additional stopping power, installing Wilwood discs and six-piston calipers that hide behind Method wheels at all four corners. The flared bodywork was topped off with a Viper Red hue applied by Travis Sylvester at Sylvester's Customs, who also painted the frame and cage, and laid down the pair of black racing stripes that run from the hood to the back of the cab.
In the interest of improving the truck’s drivability, they installed a Holley Terminator X EFI system as well. “We had actually converted the truck over to a Sniper EFI system previously, which had been working really well, but it was damaged in the roll-over,” Lindsay explains. “And the Terminator X offers a lot of expandability above and beyond the Sniper. It just does everything, it’s user-friendly, and it works extremely well right out of the box. I really feel like Holley is at the forefront of EFI technology these days.”
RJ Fab recently put the finishing touches on the latest iteration of the F-100, and while Linares is stoked to be behind the wheel again, he admits that the situation is bit different this time around. “I mean, it’s such an amazing machine now, I really don’t want to yard sale this thing again,” he says with a laugh. “So the plan is to spend the next few winters in Glamis and take it to some shows, but nothing too crazy. But I want to keep it nice and just kind of enjoy it. I have some other vehicles that I can use for the really abusive stuff.”
In the meantime, Linares and Lindsay are already putting the plan together for the next build – a ’78 F-250 SuperCab pre runner which, like the F-100, will retain a Ford powerplant under the hood. “I’m a Ford diehard – I really want these trucks to retain a lot their original character, and I think a big part of the F-100’s allure is that it hasn’t been LS swapped," Linares says. “Rob will probably fight me on that with the F-250, but I think I’ll win.”